Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Talmud Circle 3: December 6, 2015.... (in which Peretz reconciles Hannah's "Sato" ruse)

After a delayed start with setting up, we got down to work, without a break...and before we knew it, we looked up and it was 12:15 and we got the hook from administration to clear the room for the next event. That seems like a good sign, yes?

What engrossed us so?


Peretz commented on the paragraph structure of the Steinsaltz edition. Steinsaltz helps us decode the architecture of the commentary. It helps us to decode it and identify transitionary moves. [And we are grateful] For example, if we look at the page of Berakhot 31a, page 61 in the Vilna edition (in Hebrew at the end of the book) we see that pages 204-207 are derived from a single page--without paragraph breaks in the Vilna edition.

The Steinsaltz allows us to read just the English, with or without his fills, to compare the Hebrew and English side by side, if we are able, or to go hard-core and read the Vilna edition in its original form in the back of the book, if we are really able.

We compared reading the six "I might have thought" Tosefta, as spelled out and elaborated by Steinsaltz, and then reading just the bolded language, translated from the Vilna ed [at p. 207 (top)]. This illustrates the poetic, rhythmic meter of the original, which was conducive to memorization and oral transmission. For example, take the first six Tosefta:
I might have that one could pray throughout the entire day; it has already been articulated by Daniel, "And three times..."
I might have thought that this began when he came to exile; it was stated: "as he had done before." 
I might have that one may pray any direction he wishes; the verse states: "facing Jerusalem."
I might have that one may include all at one time; it has already been articulated by David, as it is written: "Evening and morning and noon." (Psalms 55:18)  
I might have that one may make his voice heard in his Amida prayer; it has already been articulated by Hannah, as it is stated: "and her voice could not be heard." (1 Samuel: 1:13) 
I might have that one should request his own needs first, and afterwards recite prayers; it has already been articulated by Solomon; It is stated: "To hear the song and the prayer (1 Kings 8:28) song is prayer; prayer is request, does not speak matters of request after emet vyaotziv but after the Amidah prayer even the equivalent of the order of the confession of Yom Kippur recite.
The language is elegantly compact.

Tosefta: refers to "another gathered material." It is additional halakhic or aggadic material not included in the Mishna of Judah Hanassi (b. ~135 CE - d. 217 CE), but created and gathered in the same general community, and shortly after the Mishna. Tosefta follows the order of Mishna. It is also gathered in a separate volume (about three times larger than the Mishna).  Tosefta begin to appear right after acceptance of Judah Hanassi's Mishna. [There are also "Tosefta" that appear after Rashi's (b. 1040-d. 1105, Troyes France) commentaries]

Mishna was redacted after the Bar Kokhba revolt (132-135 CE), perhaps in Zippori, in the Galilee. Zippori was "the Corte Madera" of Judea in the 2nd century. The town assumed enormous importance as a centre of Jewish learning. Rabbi Judah Hanassi and a host of rabbis, students and Jewish academies settled there in the second Century. During this time the city rapidly expanded and might have numbered about 12,000 people. The city was named after the Hebrew word for bird, 'zippor', because birds seemed to soar above its position on top of a hill. Also, birds flew over Zippori on their migratory route. [See CNN Report: "on the superhighway of bird migratory routes"]  King Herod liked the strategic position of Zippori and made it his capital when he was governor of Galilee in the beginning of his career.

Zippori Residence mosaic

Zippori Synagogue floor

Tosefta goes deeper than Mishna. It looks for independent access to God through prayer--without intermediaries, in both the public and private spheres.

Aside 1: By the time Hanassi redacted the Mishna many Greeks and other non-Jews lived in Judea and the Galilee, and Jews were a minority. Rabbi Hanassi sought to provide access to the tradition to the Jewish people, who were now dispersed. The rabbis were supported in Zippori because the community recognized the communal value of the work being done.

Aside 2: Philip Alexander (in this BBC 4 "In Our Time" podcast) points out that by the edict of Caracalla in 212,  Roman citizenship was conferred on all free citizens within the empire.  During the last five years of his life, Rabbi Hanassi, therefore, along with the other rabbis working on the Mishna project were Roman citizens. It is interesting to note that at the same time that Judah Hanassi was working on the Mishna there was a similar early codification effort of Roman law under way at the School of Beirut.  [This BBC program on the Talmud is good, and I recommend the podcast series in general]

Aside 3: The first book (of many) written by Moses Maimonedes (b. 1135-d. 1204) was a commentary on the Mishna.  He meant his book to be a guide. It established his credentials.

Aside 4: The Babylonian Talmud was closed as the economy in the Sassinian Empire declined and the Yeshiva culture in Babylon dried up along with it. See Ellis Rifkin: The Shaping of Jewish History: a Radical new Interpretation, which provides a concise history of the Jewish people through the lens of economics.

Aside 5: The Babylonian Talmud contains lots of practical tort laws, laws regarding the ownership of property, laws regarding cattle and damages. There are comprehensive treatises regarding our dealing with others; with minutia like what do we do when a satrap (Persian official) enters the synagogue--do we rise, or keep sitting? Answer: we coordinate our rising with some part of the liturgy that would also cause us to rise.

Aside 6: Where to place the menorah? Traditional rule is near the front gate, so all can see it. By Rashi--and the crusades--the rule is modified that the menorah can be safely lit in the kitchen.  [An exception for safety in an age of dangerous pogroms] One of the articulations of the dream of Zionism early on was to have our own land so we can put the menorah back out in front of the house once again.

Aside 7: A hazzan (or Chazzan) came up in the tradition as "musicians." Professional cantorial role is more recent. Chazzanut  is a composer.  A Cantor has musical skills.

Aside 8: The purpose of the rabbis in writing the Talmud is not for it to rule the synagogue. Talmud is part of it. The goal is to create something attractive so the community wants to stay together. In this sense, the text recreates the Jewish people in the post-temple period.

A Close Reading of Berakhot 31a, 31b (pp. 207-209):

The Tsofeta at the top of p. 207 starts with a reference to the book of Daniel. The book of Daniel was the "best-seller" for all of the 1st century. Its six stories and four dream sequences were known to all. "It is the first great work of apocalyptic writing" [New Oxford annotated Bible]

Daniel is a problematic text for Judaism. It contains reference to "the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost." There is the immediate expectancy of a savior--thus, Roman citizenship notwithstanding--it was popular during the Roman occupation. There is reference to the "hoary old man" and the "Son-of-man." [The rabbis claim the term "son-of-man" is a claim to divinity] Jesus speaks a lot about the book of Daniel.  So for all these reasons, Daniel is the last book you would study in a Yeshiva, even as it might be the first book you study in a seminary.  Yet none of this reduced its popularity. Here it is in the Tosefta: "additional halakhot were derived from Daniel's prayer."

Note that the rabbis here incorporate a broad spectrum of bibilical sources. They are building the foundation for the written tradition.

From Daniel's prayer we derive that we pray three times a day, kneeling, and facing Jerusalem.

From Psalms we learn that the three prayers are distributed: evening, and morning, and noon.

From 1 Samuel we learn that the Amida prayer is spoken in the heart only, although we enunciate with our lips.

From 1 Kings we learn the structure of the Amidah: we give praise--then make our personal request--and then give thanks.

There is a reference to confessions, as in the Viduy (end of life) prayers: when we confess, the Hebrew word is closer to "miss" than to "sin" as we might understand it in a Christian reference. Rav Hammauna added that from Hannah's prayer in 1 Samuel we also learn that one must focus one's heart in prayer. The daily Viduy is said "as if it were the last day of your life."  It demands intentionality. Soberness--both literally and metaphorically.

Intentionality of prayer is more important than command of words or the prayer book.

Aside 9:  Hannah is, of course, pre-Davidic. She is on the lowest rung of the social ladder. Her story, barrenness, is a common story of heartbreak. She has everyday troubles. She is imprisoned without children in a multi-wives household. Yet, she is able to approach God directly.

The rabbis in Talmud set up a systems of permissions for access to God.  Even though the temple has been destroyed, Talmud creates on-ramps to the highway of communication with God--another way outside the temple offering system.

Ruth White raised the issue of prayer with a minyan. The Wiki entry for minyan contains the following:
It was the firm belief of the sages that wherever ten Israelites are assembled, either for worship or for the study of the Law, the Divine Presence dwells among them. ...[S]tress is put upon the merits and sacredness of the minyan of ten.  [Maimonides and] the author of the Shulkhan Arukh, have ... made the daily attendance at public worship, morning and evening, to be conducted in a quorum of ten. There is a disagreement between the medieval commentators on whether prayer with a minyan is preferable or obligatory. Rashi is of the view that an individual is obligated to pray with a minyan, while Nahmanides holds that only if ten adult males are present are they obliged to recite their prayer together, but an individual is not required to seek out a minyan. 
Lorraine Harris raised the question, does God answer prayer?  We observed that Hannah's prayer was indeed answered. But was it correlation or causation? For Eli (the priest) or Elkanah (her husband) it's hard to tell. They don't know the nature of Hannah's prayer. Hannah's prayer was silent.  It's hard to say whether any change in fortune is the result of prayer, or not.

1 Samuel seems clear: there was divine intervention in the birth of Samuel. Same was true for Sarah and Abraham and Isaac.  However, the rabbis were aware that (1) prayers often/usually are not answered [for hundreds of years they inserted the prayer for the restoration of Jerusalem into the liturgy knowing it was not happening], and (2) they knew there was an epistemological problem: not only did Elkanah and Eli have no way of knowing the content of Hannah's prayer, or its efficacy--neither could Hannah know if it was her prayer, or something else! She petitioned God for a male child, and Eli blessed her--but how can Hannah know if the pregnancy was due to God's intervention?  Noone narrates our stories in Talmud--how could we know?

Aside 10: Temple priests did not have a spoken role.

A joke: a Jewish mother takes her son to the beach. Suddenly a big wave grabs the boy and sweeps him out to sea. The mother is shocked. She can't believe her eyes; she's always so careful. It can't be! What will her husband say? How could she be so careless!  Then she gets angry.  "God!" she says. "I've kept all your commandments: I keep a kosher kitchen. My husband prays every evening, morning, and noon. We go to Shul. After all we've done for you... how can you do this to me?" And suddenly another big wave delivers her son back to her.  The mother is so relieved. She looks up. "He had a hat ...!"

Correlation or causation? How can the mother know? How can any of us know? Prayers are like that. And the rabbis knew it.

So the rabbis also drew more simple lessons from Hannah.  Rabbi Elazar noted the importance of correcting another who is unseemly in conduct or matter; and if accused in error, you must point this out.

Aside 11: God-Torah-Israel (Heschel):
Judaism is a complex structure. It can be characterized exclusively neither as a theological doctrine nor as a way of living according to the Law nor as a community. A religious Jew is a person committed to God, to his concern and teaching (Torah), who lives as part of a covenant community (Israel).

Judaism revolves around three sacred entities: God, Torah, Israel. The Jew never stands alone before God; the Torah and Israel are always with him.

God as an isolated concept may be exceedingly hidden, vague, and general. In Jewish experience the relation between God and man is established as a concrete and genuine situation in finding an answer to the questions: What are the acts and moments in which God becomes manifest to man? What are the acts and moments in which man becomes attached to God? To the Jew, the Torah is the answer. ... [It] is not only the adherence to particular doctrines and observances but primarily the living in the spiritual order of the Jewish people, the living in the Jews of the past and with the Jews of the present. Not only is it a certain quality in the souls of the individuals but it is primarily involvement and participation in the covenant and community of Israel. .... 
A. Torah  
The Torah, the comprehensive name for the revealed teachings of Judaism, has been an object of love and adoration. ... [T]he Torah has a concrete as well as a spiritual reality; it not only exists as a book in human possession; it also exists in heaven as well as on earth. Indeed, the Hebrew term for revelation is literally "Torah from heaven." ....
The world was created on approval. Unless the Torah was accepted at Sinai, the cosmos would have to be returned to chaos. There could be a cosmos only with the Torah. The absence of the Torah would imply the absence of the universe. With Torah comes the divine blessing of an ordered creation. Without it, there is danger of a return to the abyss of cosmic confusion. The Torah is the ground of all beings. The creatures of heaven and earth cannot exist without it. [citing Babylonian Talmud:  Avoda Zarah, 3b; and Sanhedrin 99b].... 
B. God 
[And....] One must always live in the awe of God (Deuteronomy 6:13). .... One should be in awe of God while in the sanctuary. One's awe should be directed to God, not to the sanctuary."  ... 
The Torah is not to be understood in its own terms. Love of the Torah and awe of God are interrelated. Acts of loving-kindness and study of Torah must go together....
The Torah does not stand alone. It stands with God and with man. Love of Torah links awe of God with the individual performance of deeds of loving- kindness toward one's fellow men. The Torah is the knot wherein God and man are interlaced. However, he who accepts God's existence without accepting the authority of the Torah deviates from Judaism..... 
C. Israel 
Israel is the wick, the Torah the thread, and God's presence (Shekinah) is the fire. [Citing Tikunai Zohar, 421, 60b] ... 
These are three entities, each of which is connected to the other: God, the Torah, and Israel. "God and Israel, when together, are called one, but not when' parted."57 Similarly, "when a man separates himself from the Torah, he separates himself from God." [Citing Zohar, Vayikra 21a]... 
You are my witnesses, says the Lord, and I am God (Isaiah 43:12). Rabbi Simon ben Yohai (second century) took the sentence to mean: If you are my witnesses, I am God; if you cease to be my witnesses, I am not God.76 This is a bold expression of the interdependence of God and Israel, a thought that occurs in various degrees of clarity in the history of Jewish theology. This particular statement maintains: If there are no witnesses, there is no God to be met. There is a mystery, an enigma, a darkness past finding out. For God to be present there have to be witnesses. [citing Seder Elija Rabba, ch. 21] The essence of Judaism is the awareness of the reciprocity of God and man, of man's togetherness with Him who abides in eternal otherness. For the task of living is His and ours, and so is the responsibility. We have rights, not only obligations; our ultimate commitment is our ultimate privilege..... 
God is now in need of man, because He freely made him a partner in his enterprise, "a partner in the work of creation." "From the first day of creation the Holy One, blessed be He, longed to enter into partnership with the terrestrial world" to dwell with his creatures within the terrestrial world.80 Expounding the verse in Genesis 17:1, the Midrash remarked: "In the view of Rabbi Johanan we need His honor; in the view of Rabbi Simeon ben Lakish He needs our honor." [Citing Genesis Rabba, ch. 30] ....
Jewish existence is not only the adherence to particular doctrines and observances but primarily the living in the spiritual order of the Jewish people, the living in the Jews of the past and with the Jews of the present. It is not only a certain quality in the souls of the individuals; it is primarily involvement and participation in the covenant and community of Israel. ....  Our share in holiness we acquire by living within the community. What we do as individuals may be a trivial episode; what we attain as Israel causes us to grow into the infinite.
Rabbi Elazar noted that one who prays drunk is undertaking a "useless activity." The Steinsaltz translators rendered this as "idol worship," but the more accurate rendering, said Rabbi Peretz, is "useless activity."  This implies, I suppose that praying drunk is allowed--just don't expect it to be efficacious. But then... since our sober prayers are often not efficacious either [and, as noted, how can we ever know?] .... what the heck. As Leonard Cohen sang: "Like a drunk in midnight choir, I have tried in my way to be free!" [By the way, have you read Bernard Avishai's great piece in the New Yorker "Leonard Cohen's Montreal?"]

Yet in 1 Samuel, there did seem to be some rebuke in Eli's comment: "How long will you be drunken? Put away your wine from you." 1 Samuel 1:14. And Hannah was defensive about it. Id. 1:17.  It seems likely that Rabbi Elazar did not intend "useless activity," but something more morally loaded. Perhaps that is why the translators went with "idol worship," even if this is not a perfect word choice.

Aside 12: Hannah referred to God as "the Lord of Hosts." Rabbi Elazar notes "this is a first." The root word here suggests "spheres", the "Lord of the spheres," "the Lord of all the expanding spheres."  The word  "hosts" means multitudes:  multitude of spheres.

Aside 13: The word melech (angel) meant emanations between us and God that we can perceive. There was no connotation of "wingy-things." However in that problematic, but popular book, Daniel, they are wingy-things. In Ezekiel too.

The parable of the poor person asking for bread of the king at a banquet: "give me a piece of bread," and "from this entire feast... is it so difficult in your eyes to give me a single slice of bread?" The rabbis here allude to a petitioning prayer as pushy..., not a passive request.

The Sato fantasy [See p. 209, or the last blogpost, for the play by play]: the rabbis here fully realize that this is an absurd thought experiment. Elazar's opinion is that if Hannah conceives in response to her prayer, even if we knew the content of her prayer--which we cannot know--we cannot know if we are looking at mere correlation or causation. ["As it is taught in a baraita that the tanna'im disputed the interpretation"] Why did they dispute it? Because we cannot know. And if we could, as Rabbi Akiva said, "all barren women will go and seclude themselves with men"... and practice this Sato ruse on God... and that's pretty silly. According to Rabbi Akiva's explanation, say the rabbis (third para. from bottom, p. 209) "The Torah spoke in the language of men, meaning ... nothing may be derived from it." In other words, the rabbis are working hard to downplay the miraculous; they are working to avoid attributing a hoped for response to prayer (a correlation) to the miraculous.

The rabbis were cautious about creating systematic miracles.

So what does this tell us about prayer: we should have deep introspection without an expectation of reward.  For prayer to be truly holy it must be made non-utilitarian.

When we say Kodesh in public prayer (e.g. "may all those in need of healing be healed") the requests are always non-specific.

Rabbi Yosei, at bottom of p. 209, notes that Hannah attests to her status as God's servant in her prayer. Her attitude is the opposite of the cocky, impudent, poor person barging into the king's feast.

We left off at the bottom of p. 209.

1 comment:

  1. You do an amazing job of capturing all the discussion and learning that takes place during the class in addition to adding other useful information and links. Kol Hakavod and thank you.